Queen Butterfly

Danaus gilippus

Summary 5

The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a North and South American butterfly in the family Nymphalidae with a wingspan of 70–88 mm (2.8–3.5 in). It is orange or brown with black wing borders and small white forewing spots on its dorsal wing surface, and reddish ventral wing surface fairly similar to the dorsal surface. The ventral hind wings have black veins and small white spots in a black border. The male has a black androconial scent patch on the dorsal surface of the hind wing.

Decription 6

The queen is a moderately large butterfly. It has an average wingspan of 3.1 inches (7.9 cm) to 3.3 inches (8.4 cm). It is easily distinguishable from its cousin, the monarch, by its darker brown ground color. It boasts a very tough and flexible chitinousexoskeleton, unlike most other butterflies.

Wing color varies from bright, fulvous brown to rich chocolate, with black marginal bands that are dotted with white or yellow. The underside of the wing is designed much like the upper wing, except it is more pale. The queen has less prominent veins on its wings and lacks the darker, apical shading found in monarchs. The forewing is generally much larger than the rounded hind wing.

Both sexes are morphologically similar. The male's and the female’s forewing lengths range from 3.7 centimetres (1.5 in) to 4.6 centimetres (1.8 in), with the mean length equaling 4.2 centimetres (1.7 in). The antennae lack scales. Although all danaids have two pairs of walking legs, the forelegs, the first pair located on the prothoracic segment of the abdomen, is stunted and of little use. The forelegs are more atrophied in the male than in the female. The female uses its short forelegs to scratch the surfaces of leaves to determine which ones are suitable hosts for its eggs. On both sexes, only the atrophied forelegs lack claws.

However, the male queen has a specialized patch of androconia, or a scent-pouch covered in scales, located on its dorsal hind wing. The position and structure of androconia is used to identify between genera. The male also has one reversibly extensible hair-pencils on each side of its abdomen. Hair-pencils, when in contact with these scales, disseminate pheromones near the female at integral stages of successful courtship.

Larval Description 6

Comparatively, the mature queen caterpillar is darker and not as brightly colored as the monarch.

In the larval stage, the queen is a bluish-white, with a reddish-brown underside. It has two pairs of black, fleshy

tentacles—one is on the second thoracic segment and the other on the eighth abdominal segment—but lack spines. When mature, the caterpillar is brown with purplish prolegs. The caterpillar has been observed in the following transverse stripes: blue, green, yellow, white, and blackish brown. The head is black with white rings. There is no hair on the body of the caterpillar.

Larval host plants 6

The queen larvae feed on Apocynaceae (milkweeds and dogbanes). It can survive on a number of hosts. Common plants include butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica). In the West Indies, blunt-leaved milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) and honey vine (Cynanchum laeve) is favored. The caterpillar has also been observed on Asclepias nivea, Calotropis procea, and Apocynaceae nerium. Other reported host genera include the Apocynum, Gonolobus, Sarcostemma, and Stapelia.

GTM Occurrrence 7

The Queen is considered as frequent in abundance at the GTM. It occurs from April to December and is fairly evenly distributed in abundance throughout the year with the peak in July and August. The Queen occurs along all Transects with the Glasswort Loop (Transect C) having the most observations and the open habitat along Transect A second. There have been 36 specimens observed as of December 28, 2015.

Distribution 6

The queen belongs to a family (Danaidae) that is common to both New and Old Worlds, specifically found throughout the tropics and into the temperate regions of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Stray specimens are found in Europe. The queen is chiefly a tropical species. In the US, it is usually confined to the southern portion of the country. It can be found regularly in peninsular Florida and southern Georgia, as well as in the southern portions of Texas, California, and other states bordering on Mexico. Occasionally, the subspecies of the queen can be found somewhat north, in Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. Periodically, a stray may be found in the Midwest, such as in Missouri. The berenice subspecies is found largely in the Southeast and the strigosus in the Southwest. The queen is also found in Cuba.

It is more common in southern Central America, with numbers beginning to rise in Mexico. The queen can be found as far south as Argentina. Although the queen does not undertake dramatic migrations like the monarch, most undertake short-distance travel at tropical latitudes in areas that have a distinct dry season. During those periods, the queen will fly from lowlands to high elevations.

Habitat 6

Throughout its distribution, the queen can be found on open land, in meadows, fields, and marshes. It displays a more xeric preference in Hispaniola and will fly to the edge of, but seldom penetrate, hammocks and forests. In the southern US, the queen prefers open woodland, fields, and desert. Most likely they are found wherever milkweeds grow.

Mimicry in cardenolide-derived defense 8

For quite some time, the queen had been regarded as highly unpalatable to its vertebrate (mainly avian) predators. This is due to the fact that the queen, like its cousin the monarch, feeds largely on Asclepiads. As the queen and the monarch are closely related, it was assumed that the queen also possesses the ability to effectively sequester and store cardenolides present in milkweeds. As such, the queen and the Florida viceroy was long regarded a classic model-mimic example of Batesian mimicry, similar to the relationship exhibited by the monarch and the viceroy.

However, the unexpected failure of birds to reject successive queens in an experimental setting called into question the legitimacy of this relationship. In fact, experimental evidence suggested that Florida viceroys could be significantly more unpalatable than representative queens. Because experimental evidence showed sampled queens were significantly less distasteful than viceroys, it was purported that Florida viceroys and queens were Müllerian co-mimics. Furthermore, evidence from this study led to the hypothesis that the queen actually enjoys an asymmetric mimicry relationship, gaining an advantage from flying in the company of the relatively more unpalatable viceroy.

Further experimentation suggested that chemical defense of queens is highly labile. It was shown that queens reared on the high-cardenolide A. curassavica sequester and store levels of cardenolides similar to those found in monarchs. These butterflies were regarded as very distasteful and were largely rejected by avian predators. Furthermore, those that were eaten elicited high rates of distress behavior. However, queens reared on S. clausum, a larval host plant known to be a very poor cardenolide source, contain no detectable cardenolide and are essentially palatable to predators. These highly variable responses of avian predators to queens reared on different plants suggest the existence of a food-plant-related palatability spectrum in Florida queen butterflies.

Micro-geographic differences in the environment lead to variation in the dynamics of mimetic relationships even at a local level. Spatiotemporal variation throughout different ecozones lead to large differences in unpalatability of queens separated by only a few kilometers. This extensive variation supports the idea that automimicy occurs at the intrapopulation level – palatable queens mimic individuals that have higher cardenolide content. By extension, interspecific mimicry is also highly variable. At hydric inland sites, which contain large numbers of A. curassavica, queens and viceroys are distasteful Müllerian mimics of one another, while at coastal sites queens probably serve as the palatable Batesian mimics of viceroys.

Nature serve conservation status 9

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) TexasEagle, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), http://www.flickr.com/photos/10789832@N00/3002789341
  2. (c) TexasEagle, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), https://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/15208397459/
  3. (c) TexasEagle, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), https://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/10174527056/
  4. (c) Mary Keim, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA), https://www.flickr.com/photos/38514062@N03/6033410935/
  5. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danaus_gilippus
  6. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(butterfly)
  7. (c) GTMResearchReserve, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)
  8. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(butterfly)
  9. (c) NatureServe, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), http://eol.org/data_objects/28797759

More Info

iNat Map

Category name frequent
Member of the iNaturalist Network   |   Powered by iNaturalist open source software